Western Force coach John Mitchell is unwilling to develop multi-million dollar signing Matt Giteau into a scrumhalf ahead of the World Cup.
Giteau is expected to shift to No 9 as an experiment in the Test against Italy next month. However, with second choice scrumhalf Sam Cordingley pulling out of the European tour, Wallaby coach John Connolly is considering a long term switch.
To develop Giteau into a halfback on a more permanent basis, he needs to play in that position for his Vodacom Super 14 franchise. But Mitchell believes the diminutive Aussie’s best spot is still at inside centre, where he can excell in space.
“Gits will be playing inside centre and covering for 10 [flyhalf] at the Western Force,” he told the Herald. “Should Wallabies management decide he is in the top two scrumhalves in the country, there is plenty of time – all next year’s domestic Test series, the Tri-Nations and World Cup pool games – for him to play in that position.”
Connolly is due to discuss the matter with Mitchell in the coming months, but for the moment, Giteau will play scrumhalf at some point on the November tour.
“John [Connolly] will need to have a dialogue with the Force, but I think we are getting ahead of ourselves,” Australian Rugby Union managing director Gary Flowers said. “At this stage they are going to play [Giteau] there [at halfback] on the tour and from there they will make an assessment on which position they’d prefer him to play.”
Incumbent Force No 9 Matt Henjak, a friend and former team-mate of Giteau at the ACT Brumbies, acknowledged the Wallaby’s versatility, but reckons his own form will decide on how much time Giteau receives at halfback.
“If I’m playing well enough I’m sure Matt Giteau won’t be starting halfback come the first game of the Super 14 next year against the Highlanders,” he said.
“He is a rare talent that doesn’t come around often, but if you ask him, his preference is to play inside centre, where there is a bit more open space so he can use his incredibly fast footwork and great ball skills.”
But Henjak is well aware of the terrible debut season he had with the Western Australia franchise, and hopes 2007 will be better.
“Last season I didn’t have a great year. I wished we could have played more games, but there’s only 13 games so there is not really that much time to work over the year and turn around a form slump. I’m confident there will be no form slump next year,” he said.